Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Sermon for 1/27/13

One Body, Many Parts 1 Corinthians 12

Puzzle - missing pieces - daughter’s puzzle collection - maybe didn’t seem important at the time but they are when assembling the puzzle.

The Church works this way. All the parts are important - eye, hand, head, feet.

1 - Some don’t like to be visible. Specially important, treated with extra care
We give greater honor to those

2 - When one part suffers we all do.
picture out-of-balance body which hurts itself

3 - Church is full of gifts
miracle workers
Many gifts, all important, all to be desired. All point us directly to our Savior. This is the task of the Holy Spirit. Notice though the importance of reading and interpretation of God’s Word. It is in the Word of God that we receive the faith and trust, the conviction, the repentance and forgiveness we need.

All gifts are for three purposes in the Church
“What do we mean to accomplish by this? Why does our group exist? Are we fulfilling one or more of the churchly purposes? “Why do we do what we do?”

God raises up all the gifts we need.

How is he working in you, preparing you to use your gifts?
How can we as a church help you see the Lord working through you?
  ongoing Bible study and discipleship
  involvement in service to the saints
  there is always something for those who are willing to do as they seek to express their faith

Sermon for 1/20/13

Life has been very busy just lately! Here's the sermon for 1/20, The Best Wedding Gift. You'll see below that I just used an outline of sorts.

Many of us like to go to parties. I had the opportunity to go to a wedding recently, a wedding of a young lady, all grown up now, who was one of my students many years ago...
lots of guests
celebration – in the time of Jesus lasting many days
big event
eating some more
What happens when they run out of wine?

Jesus and his disciples present, his mother as well.

John sets up this miracle, what he calls his first “sign” very carefully.

In human terms, nothing can be done.

What does Jesus bring? What does he use?

1 - Stone water jars for ceremonial washing
20-30 gallons each
tremendous amount? Maybe, maybe not
Vessels are for purification, ceremonial washing, cleansing

2 – Jesus uses water – lots of water
In purification ceremonies there were offerings and washing, it went together
Effective because God has commanded it to be effective when received by faith.
Compare to washing of baptism.
Jesus is there as the offering.
There's enough cleansing for all – plenty of water – 120-150 gallons.

3 – Jesus gives the best wine
from water for purification (again, compare baptism)
made into wine instantly – Jesus is able to proclaim it and it is so
perfectly delightful – the best they could ever imagine

Jesus revealed his glory to his people. It resulted in their trusting him. How does he reveal his glory to us?
daily supply
We who see his glory put our faith in him.

Jesus gives himself as the greatest wedding gift. Jesus gives himself as the greatest gift ever. He is the one who purifies. He is the one who makes the water be able to purify. And the water of washing here becomes the wine, which he will later introduce as the blood of his covenant – the offering made to bring cleansing.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sermon for 1/13/13

Sermon Isaiah 43:1-7

Grace, mercy and peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Walking on water? That’s what we’d all like to do, isn’t it? Picture yourself being able to command all nature, to overcome the laws of physics. And there are some people who will proclaim the Gospel and tell their hearers that in Christ all things are possible, we should expect to do all the kind of miraculous works that Jesus did, including healing the sick, raising the dead, whatever it is. And truth be told, every last one of us has at least one miracle we’d like to be able to do. Most of us think the idea of a genie in a bottle who would give us three wishes isn’t exactly unpleasant. After all, we could probably wrangle a few wishes that would not be misinterpreted and that we wouldn’t regret.

But we’re pulled back to reality, aren’t we? We find out fast enough that we get up day after day and are just the same people we always were. I might think I’m good looking until I look in the mirror. I might think I’m smart until I’m outsmarted by about half the people around me. I might think I’m good with my hands until I actually try to fix something. I might think I’m healthy until I catch the next flu bug. I might think I’m wealthy until I look at my bank account. And then I realize I’m not wise either, that I was not to bed early enough, and that I definitely didn’t get up early enough to have a head start on the rest of the world. The fact is, we’re not above the trials of this life. We aren’t immune to them. The only walking on water I’ve done lately is on frozen water, and that generally involves slipping and falling.

So what will we do? How will we deal with all this disappointment? After all, I’m not alone, am I? Or maybe everyone else here is above all that, pushing perfection really hard. Of course, even Mary Poppins isn’t perfect, just “practically perfect in every way.” I guess we’d better not count on her, then. Superwhateveritis. We aren’t going to walk on the water. I’m afraid we’ll have to go right on through it then.

Of course, in the Bible, water is used in two different ways. They seem to go together. We’d all like to think about the pleasant kind of water. The Lord leads us beside still waters. He gives us living water to drink. He washes us and we are clean. This is a good view of water, and it’s one we think about today, the day remembering the baptism of the Lord. But there’s a different symbolism of water. In the Bible as in everyday life, that same water which gives us life, that same water which slakes our thirst, which washes us, an abundance of water is also that which kills us. Remember Noah and how God preserved him from death by water even while purging the world from sin by drowning everyone but Noah and his family. Remember how the flood of Noah, according to 1 Peter 3, is a symbol of baptism, that which saves us. When I was converted to Christ as a young adult it was in a church body that taught baptism was always to be by immersion and was reserved for adults who had already begun confessing Christ. I’m still good with baptism by immersion. I’m not convinced we need a lot of water. But I have nothing against dipping someone under the water. As we read today in Romans 6 it’s a picture of being put to death. And you know what happens when you baptize someone and leave the person under water. We won’t do that. We bring the person through the water, just like our Lord does.

That’s what God is talking about in Isaiah 43. He has called his people by name. He has purchased them. That’s the idea of “redeeming” someone. It’s buying the person back from slavery, from captivity. But when that person is a captive of death and God calls him to life, he brings the person out of those crushing waters of death. He makes us pass through the waters. He doesn’t have us walking on water and he doesn’t have us drowning under the water. He makes us pass through the water. He is with us. Just like when the people of Israel passed through the Red Sea, just like when they crossed the Jordan River into the land of promise, just like when Daniel’s three friends passed through the fire in Babylon, God brings us through that place of death. He rescues us from death, because we belong to him, the Lord of life.

How does our Lord do this? What is it all about? Does he rescue us because we are obedient, because we are good, because we are useful? Not at all. He rescues us because he has chosen us. Recently a person I was visiting was asking me, yet again, “Why am I still here?” This is an elderly person who doesn’t always feel useful. In fact, this person seldom feels useful. Why would the Lord keep me here? Why not just take me home? It isn’t because we are useful. It isn’t because we are good. It isn’t because we show great promise. The fact is we don’t supply God with anything he needs. We aren’t good, not up to his standards. We confess our sin and acknowledge our guilt. We aren’t really good for much, if you think about it. But our Lord has called us by name. He has chosen us. He has decided that he wants to keep us. It’s kind of like a little thing that I have on a shelf. I have a pig on  a shelf in my office. I had that pig on my desk in my school classroom. I had it on my desk in the bill collecting office where I worked for some years during college. It’s just a little carved pig. Know what it’s worth? Probably nothing. It isn’t heavy enough to be a paperweight. It isn’t really very beautiful. My father brought it back with him from a trip to South America when I was a teenager. I bet he spent at least fifty cents on it, translated into the local currency. Just a trinket. But it’s there. Why? Because it’s mine. Have I had other presents from my family members? Sure. Some of them have been valuable. Some of them have been beautiful. But it’s the pig that’s on my bookcase. Somehow it’s special.

Please remember, if you don’t remember anything else today, you are special in the eyes of the Lord. He chose you, not because of anything but his sovereign love for you. You don’t have to deserve it, which is good, because we can never deserve God’s love. You don’t have to live up to all your hopes and dreams. He didn’t choose you because of those. He chose you because he wanted to. He chose you out of death. He chose you into life. And as you pass from death to life, as you pass from time to eternity, the Lord will bring you through water, through fire, through all manner of trials. Is he going to leave you there? No more than I am going to baptize you for twenty minutes.

What does the Lord do instead? In Isaiah 43:4 we saw that the Lord will give people in exchange for our life. He brings us through water and fire, things which kill. He brings us through this temporal life, something else which kills. But God has given a man for your life. That man is Jesus, our Lord, God the Son. He passed through the baptismal waters, the water of death, so you could know that he would bring you out on the other side. He passed through every kind of temptation that you will ever face. He overcame it. And as he gives you his life, you can overcome temptation as well. He passed through the firestorms of criticism. He can keep you perfectly safe. He passed through death itself, rising from the dead. You also can consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ, someone who will, by nature, follow Jesus in his resurrection.

So are we ready to walk on water? It’s wonderful when we get to do that, especially if we don’t slip and fall on the ice. But when we are walking through the water, when we are passing through this valley called an earthly life, when we go through this life which looks a lot more like death, we know that Jesus has been there. He has given a man for you. He himself has triumphed over all. He is able to present you to himself, cleansed from sin. He is able to take that which would bring us death by drowning and make it a refreshing drink to us. He is able to take that which would burn us and kill us and make it a means by which we can be warmed and fed. Jesus our Lord, who gave himself to be sin for you, is able himself to give you his perfect sinless life.

Do you trust that Jesus is your king? Do you trust that he has called you by name? Do you believe that he is able to take you and walk you through the water and through the fire? Do you believe that he himself will care for you, simply because he cares for you? Then cast your cares on him. Give him thanks for his grace. Look to him and proclaim his praises to every generation. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sermon for 1/6/13

Sermon “The Mystery Unveiled” Ephesians 3:1-12 Grace, mercy and peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today, the day of Epiphany, the day of revelation, of realization, of unveiling, this very day is the time when we gather as the chosen people of God. Most if not all of us in this room are Gentiles by our heritage. In the Western world the majority in the Church are not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, we are not children of Israel. Yet this great mystery has been revealed to us, the mystery of Christ, as we read together a few minutes ago in Ephesians chapter 3. In these last days, unlike in all the generations from Abraham up to Joseph the husband of Mary, the promise of salvation has been revealed to the Gentiles. The promise of salvation has been revealed to us. Here’s how it works. Through the generations the Jews have been told they are God’s chosen people, God’s favored ones. And they have acted on that promise. They have lived out their lives according to God’s calling. God’s blessing has been upon them, at least most of the time. They receive penalties at his hand now and then. Who can forget that captivity in Babylon, after all? But again and again, as the children of Israel turn to God in repentance and faith God turns around and rescues them from their enemies. They have a promise of salvation. As they trust in God, the God who has made a covenant with them, the God who has poured out his promises on them, He continues to show them that He is their God and they are His people. They believe God. He considers it righteousness. All is well. But there’s part of the promise to Abraham missing in this story. In Genesis 12, 18, and 22 God promises that Abraham will be a blessing to the whole world, to all the nations. Where is this going to be fulfilled? Is it only as the nations come and convert to Judaism, being adopted into the chosen people? For a very long time the world acted with that assumption. If we wanted to be right with God we would have to become Jewish. Salvation is of the Jews. Is this the way God blesses the world? It’s a mystery. I like mysteries. Do you? Some do and some don’t. I remember, pretty vaguely because it was a long time ago, some television game shows. There was one, I knew about but never saw, called the “mystery box.” There was another, and I don’t remember the name of it, where you could choose the prize behind a particular door. The contestants didn’t know what was in the box or behind the door. As they went through the game they could compete for prizes that they knew about or they could compete for mystery prizes. You never know what’s behind the door. It could be the chance to have your picture taken with a monkey. It could be a year’s supply of popcorn. Neither of those prizes are really bad. They aren’t worth very much, but they aren’t bad, I suppose. But there might be a large amount of money, a car, or a vacation trip behind one of those doors or in that box. You really don’t know. How is the mystery going to come out? What will happen? You can become a Jew and live your life under God’s covenant. It may look like the only way. But there’s a little bit of a mystery because God has promised to bless the whole world and the world is not flocking to the synagogue asking to convert. What has God provided? How is he revealing himself? The mystery is resolved in Christ. He opens the box. He shows us what is behind the doors. Just like the word “epiphany” would indicate, a sudden realization of God, we see the unveiled mystery of God in Christ. Here’s the mystery of God. It is that Gentiles are brought together with Jews to be heirs of God’s promises, right along with the Jews. The nation of Israel and the Gentiles are both adopted into God’s kingdom, both granted God’s promises. We share that promise of Christ together. There is no distinction, no difference. We’re all rescued from sin the same way. We’re all transferred into God’s kingdom in the same way. We all stand before God’s throne with no righteousness of our own. We all need to look to him for help and safety. This is what Paul calls in verse eight “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” This is no opportunity to have your picture taken with a monkey. It is no year’s supply of popcorn. It is no vacation trip. It is riches, all the riches of God. This mystery is our making. It is God’s riches at Christ’s expense, the grace of God poured out upon us. In Christ we have been blessed to approach God. We can come before our Lord’s throne and remind him of his promises to us. We can come to our Lord knowing that we are in trouble and cannot help ourselves. We can come to our Lord bringing our broken lives, knowing that he is the one who can put them together. We can come before our Lord asking for his forgiveness. And when we have no answer, no excuse, when we have to face him and say that we are guilty, that we have no other response to the accusations of God’s perfect law, he looks at us and says our sins have been atoned for, done away with, wiped out in the death of Jesus on our behalf. He has given himself as the perfect sacrifice, the fulfillment of all the bulls, goats, sheep, birds, and every other sacrifice ever offered. He has given himself to complete the sacrifices of all the ages, so their forgiveness can be applied forever to all who believe. Jesus himself becomes our righteousness. He is the one we have been waiting for. He is our shepherd. He is our king. This mystery is great, but it isn’t over yet. Jesus knows that we are frail. He knows that we forget. He knows that if we are given only ideas to trust we will wander from those ideas. So he gave us his physical means of grace. Just like God used the real blood of real bulls and real goats, just like God used washings and anointings in the Old Testament to deliver his grace and forgiveness, in these last days He has given us in the body and blood of Jesus our Savior his very concrete, very real expression of forgiveness. He delivers his death to us as he delivers his life to us. And he does it as we eat and drink together. This mystery, a great mystery, is revealed in Christ. Interestingly enough, at least for me, the Greek word “mystery” is translated into the Latin versions of the Bible as “sacramentum.” It’s come into English in that way, as a “sacrament.” And what is the sacrament? It is a means by which God delivers his holiness. It’s a way he takes something and makes it holy. Just as he takes the Jews and Gentiles and delivers them for one purpose, that of living before him in his grace and righteousness, he takes the simple elements of a sacrament and delivers them to accomplish his purpose. He nurtures our faith. He gives us his forgiveness. He reminds us day by day that he is with us. Remember, as Paul said in verse 12 (NIV) “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” As we gather at the Lord’s table, then, we gather in faith, with freedom, with confidence. Jesus Christ has called us from all nations into one, that he may bless us. I want to observe just a few things about the Lord’s supper as we prepare to celebrate together. As you read in your bulletin, we welcome all who have been baptized and who believe and confess that Jesus is present in his very body and blood, given to eat and drink for forgiveness of sins and to gather us together as one in him. He calls us to repent of our sins and receive his forgiveness as we gather. There are several important things which happen in communion which I’d like to remind us of, just briefly. Communion is celebrated after we have brought our offerings and prayed together. We offer ourselves to our Lord. He offers himself to us. We pray, we proclaim his holiness, and we pray again in thanksgiving. We look to our Lord in faith as we state the words he gave us in Scripture, identifying that the true body and blood of our Lord is here for us to be eaten and drunk, received for forgiveness. We pray as he taught us and then we proclaim Christ as the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Once we have received this gift of grace, the true body and blood of our Lord, the rest of the consecrated elements are consumed. Jesus gave us his body and blood to eat and drink, not to have leftovers which are preserved for later or which are disposed of in the earth, though those are other ways the Church has finished the communion. For that reason we try to predict how many communicants we will have. It is good to have it all come out even. Jesus has given himself for us. He is really, physically present, with all his grace, all the grace we need. May this be our epiphany, our time of realizing that Jesus has come to fulfill the promise that in Abraham all nations are blessed, including us. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Sermon for 12/25/12

Sermon “His Own” Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. We’ve heard the story before, haven’t we? A man, it’s usually a man in the stories, goes away. He’s gone for a long time. And during that time everything has changed. He comes back, maybe to his own estate, maybe to his own family, to his own friends, his own community, and he isn’t recognized. He is a stranger. It’s an odd picture, isn’t it? Picture George Bailey, returning to Bedford Falls, but returning and knowing that he owns the town, that all its people are his friends, that all the wealth, all the property, really belongs to him. He comes home, comes to his own things. Is he recognized? He is not. He doesn’t seem to fit in. He can’t break into the society. So many details, so many lives. He knows them all, but he is unknown to them. This is the situation Jesus faces. At least it’s part of the situation he faces. In our reading from the Gospel today drawn from John chapter 1 we see an odd statement. I remember double-checking, not believing myself, and triple-checking what happened in verse eleven. Here’s what the Greek says. “He came to his own things, but his own people did not receive him.”  When Jesus was born of a virgin, when he grew up and grew in grace and favor, he came to his own things. All creation belongs to Jesus. He shows himself, again and again, as the one who is the Lord over all creation. The wind and the waves obey him. Demons obey him. He is the Lord over sickness, the Lord over death itself. Jesus shows his authority over everything. He’s the one who can walk on water. He’s the one who can turn water into wine. He’s the one who speaks and people many miles away are healed. Jesus came to his own things. They all belong to him. They all give him glory. All, that is, except his own people. His own people, the Jews, the people who were children of Israel, those whom he had protected and provided for throughout the generations, those very people rejected Jesus. They did not receive him. Jesus comes into this world that he created and sustains. The very people he chose to show his special favor are the people who reject him. They are the people who abuse him. They are the people who undermine him. They are the people who seek to entrap him. They are the very people who will take him by force, give him an illegal trial, and persuade the Roman officials to have him crucified. Jesus came to his own, but his own did not receive him. This is far worse than George Bailey. You see, nothing’s happened. All through the ages God’s Word has been proclaimed in the temple, in the synagogues, and in faithful households. Jesus should be known to all. It’s as if George Bailey is known to everyone as the richest and most popular man in Bedford Falls, then one day suddenly everybody knows who George is but mistakes him for Mr. Potter. After all, they look about like each other, don’t they? The people of Israel say they are faithful to the true God. But they fail to recognize God the Son. Many of the people of Israel are faithful with the Word of God and with their offerings, making sacrifices and praying. Yet they miss it entirely when God comes to them according to prophecy. They see God the Son, the Son of David, the one who comes to deliver them, and they think he’s Satan. They think he’s evil, that he’s going to harm them, that he has come to destroy them, not to rescue them. Are we all that different? Our Lord gives us forgiveness by grace through faith. We turn around and either try to earn it by our good works or we are even so bold to say that we’re good people who don’t need forgiveness. Our Lord gives us the Word in the Bible and we let it collect dust on our shelves. He tells us how to live in his peace, filled with love, grace, and joy. We decide we need to ask Dr. Phil. He tells us that he will feed our faith through hearing of the Word and reception of the Sacraments. We decide that we don’t need those gifts as often as we have them available. We want to limp along and trust in ourselves rather than walking as those who trust our Lord, receiving his gifts eagerly. We aren’t all that different from the Israelites, are we? Jesus comes to us. Do we welcome him? Do we let him lead us by his Word? Or do we decide to do whatever seems right in our own eyes, like the people of Israel did so many times in the book of Judges? What is our alternative? Remember verse 12 with me. What does it mean to receive Jesus? What does it mean to believe Jesus? We take Jesus at his word. He has shown himself to be the Lord of heaven and earth. He acted in a trustworthy way again and again. He claimed equality with God. He acted just like God by healing, by proclaiming God’s truth, by raising people from the dead. He showed mastery over all nature. Jesus showed himself to be completely trustworthy. And then Jesus said that he was able to take your sins and my sins, all the evil in the world, all the shame, all the condemnation, all that we bear day after day, upon himself. He said he was able to take it away from us, to give us forgiveness, to give us his perfect obedience, to give us his perfect righteousness. Jesus said he was able to make us no longer guilty for our own sin, but to become sin for us. In everything else Jesus showed himself to be trustworthy. Do we trust him in this as well? He says he can do all kinds of impossible things, including rising again from the dead. And he goes ahead and keeps his word. Do we believe that he has taken our sin and that he is the one who makes us not guilty? That’s what believing him is. What happens to us when we believe Jesus? We are children of God. We are the kind of people who God has adopted and made heirs of his kingdom. We are the kind of people God nestles in his arms and keeps as his own. This is the gift of Christmas. Jesus came to his own people, to give his own perfection to all who believe. As we trust in Jesus he holds us in his arms just like a mother holds her baby in her arms - perfectly comfortable, perfectly safe, in a place of love and trust. Let us pray. Our Lord, you came to your own but we are slow to receive you. Grant that we may trust in you, looking to you for all the forgiveness and acceptance you have for your children. Let us live as those who are born of God, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, amen.

Sermon for 12/24/12

Sermon “True Love” Grace, mercy and peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christmas time - a time of love, a time of joy, a time of peace. Our hearts and minds turn to times with our family and friends, sitting by the fire, roasting chestnuts, egg nog, a turkey, mistletoe. Even the visions of a fat man breaking into our house through the chimney doesn’t seem to bother us. But what’s it all about? A lot of people have been talking about the baby Jesus. And in our household, where several nativity sets have been partially assembled, the last member is about ready to show up. That’s Jesus. Yes, we have a drawer with a number of baby Jesuses in it. Everyone else is assembled. And many of us, probably most of us, have at least a little bit of a soft spot for babies. Why, I even thought about seeing if I could borrow a baby to help me out in this sermon. But that can become clumsy. Yet what is the point of Jesus? We talk and talk about keeping Christ in Christmas, and that’s a very important thing. Granted, an occasion to give presents and assemble with family for a feast is a good thing all by itself. But we can do that for any number of reasons. There’s something different, something special about this date, something about this time of year. It’s special not because of the presents we bought or made for others, not because of the menu items, and not even because of our family members. There are many people in our world, and some among us, who are missing some of that, some even missing all of that. Is it still Christmas without presents? Is it still Christmas if we have nothing special to eat, or nothing at all to eat, like many Christians in the world today? Is it still Christmas if we are missing someone we love, or even if we are missing all our family? Is it still Christmas when we are sitting in the ICU wondering what the next few hours will bring? This is a difficult time for many of us. It’s a hard time. We’ve lost loved ones. Some of us are trying especially hard to enjoy this season because we don’t think we’ll have certain people with us by next year. Some of us are trying hard because we don’t think we’ll be here next year. And around the world the conditions are the same. In many countries Christians are facing persecution, famine, disease, and death. We find we are mortal. We come to the end of ourselves. So far I haven’t been very encouraging, have I? Merry Christmas! We’re surrounded by the end. This is all true. But when we turn our attention to the Scripture we find that the world hasn’t changed all that much. In Isaiah and Matthew the world is groaning in pain, as people with broken hearts, broken dreams, broken lives cry out to God for help. And in Matthew 1 we saw that help was on the way. But what kind of help is this baby? What kind of help is Jesus? There’s a children’s book that our family knows and loves which has a character who is “nothing but a baby.” What use is she? She’s nothing but a baby. And sometimes when we look at our broken hearts, our broken dreams, our broken lives, and we think about Christmas we think about Jesus, and we see him as “nothing but a baby.” It’s time that we wake up. It’s time that we see Jesus as ever so much more than a baby. It’s time that we see him as John saw him in 1 John chapter 4. Remember again verses 9 and 10. (NIV) “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” The birth of Jesus is critical in God’s work of salvation. Jesus had to be born, and the only way someone is ever born is as a baby. It works that way. Was Jesus cute? He most certainly was. When Mary and Joseph looked at that little baby he was the sweetest one they had ever seen. When the shepherds came around later they saw that all was well. Fine little lad, shows great promise. Jesus grew and grew. But why did he come? Why was he born? He was in the world so that we could have life. He came to live a perfect life so as to give that life to us. He came to bring the love of God to us. God loved us. But so we would know it and could receive it he sent his Son. That’s our hope. That’s our life. That’s what we cling to. We can lose all the presents, we can go hungry, we can be the last person left alive on earth, but still Jesus is the one who came for us. This is God’s love. Is Christmas about our love? Not at all. It’s about God’s love for us. He sent his Son. But how do we view Jesus? Do we look to him as an example, the one who teaches us how to be good people, the one who gave us a moral example, the one who fills us with good thoughts, warm thoughts, who helps us be good fathers and mothers, good husbands and wives, good children, responsible employees, good citizens? If we hope in Jesus for that alone we are missing the point of Christmas. We are missing the point of Jesus. Yes, we see in Jesus an example of perfect faithful obedience to God, rooted in love and trust. But what did we just read in 1 John 4:10? Jesus is an atoning sacrifice for our sins. If we think of Jesus as an example who then tells us to go and be perfect we have no hope. We are full of greed, selfish desire, pride, arrogance. We sin against God daily. And it only takes one failure to be imperfect in God’s eyes. It only takes the slightest bit of sin, even sin that isn’t realized in our actions. We are sinful by nature, which is why we sin. We have failed before we start. If Jesus is just an example, just a model, and we are then to go and live like he did we are without hope. But in God’s love Jesus is much more than an example. He is much more than a life coach. He is much more than a motivator. He is a savior. He is what John calls an “atoning sacrifice.” That’s a kind of special word in the Bible. He does two things in his work as a sacrifice for our sin. First, he covers up the sin. He hides the cause for God’s anger against sin. When God the Father looks at us he no longer sees our sin. He sees the perfect life of Jesus, God the Son. We are completely covered. We are entirely protected and safe. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We have been delivered from the power of sin and transferred to the kingdom of God’s perfect light and righteousness. We have nothing to fear. Jesus has covered our sin. But that isn’t all. What if we become uncovered? Jesus has also turned away the anger of God against sin. Jesus has become sin for us so that we may be the righteousness of God. He who knew no sin became sin for us. He suffered all the righteous wrath of God the Father. Not only did he hide our sin, but he also turned God’s anger at sin away from us, toward himself. He suffered in our place. That’s what Christmas is about. Do we need Christ in Christmas? Yes we do. We need him in Christmas just like we need him every day, in every way. He alone is able to rescue us from sin and death. He alone is able to give us life and salvation. And he does it because he loves us. It is not because we loved him, but because he loved us, that he has called to us. And he calls us the very same way today, as he has been calling us for nearly two thousand years. Confess your sins! Repent of your sin, repent and believe, so that you will see the forgiveness, life and salvation that Jesus has purchased on your behalf. Trust that he is the redeemer of the world, and particularly your redeemer. Trust that this Jesus has given himself as an atoning sacrifice, and that he has done it for you. Live in the light of Christmas, the time that Jesus came for you. As you do, whether you have presents or not, whether you have a feast or not, whether you have family or not, all of this falls into perspective. Jesus has given himself for you. You have a feast indeed because he is the bread of life. You have the greatest gift in the world, for Jesus has given his life for you. You have family, for you have been adopted into the kingdom of God. You have countless brothers and sisters through all the ages, and you are counted as an heir of all the wonders of God, right alongside Jesus your brother. Rejoice! Jesus has come! Christmas is here! Merry Christmas and Hallelujah. Now may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.